Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tonight's Movies: Racketeers of the Range (1939) and Timber Stampede (1939) - Warner Archive DVD Reviews

George O'Brien and Marjorie Reynolds star in RACKETEERS OF THE RANGE (1939) and TIMBER STAMPEDE (1939), which are both part of the new George O'Brien Western Collection from the Warner Archive.

I'd first seen TIMBER STAMPEDE a couple years ago, while RACKETEERS OF THE RANGE was new to me. I enjoyed watching them both back to back for this review.

RACKETEERS OF THE RANGE is a modern-day Western, in terms of wardrobes and modern conveniences, including trucks used to rustle cattle. For the most part the movie is planted firmly in the 20th century, although the use of horses and the presence of a wagon on the main street alongside cars does barely hint at what I've described as "Roy Rogers Never Never Land."

O'Brien plays Barney, a cattleman dealing with the evil machinations of Roger Whitlock (Robert Fiske), attorney for Helen Lewis (Reynolds). Roger is trying to score a big business win that's not in the best interests of the cattlemen. Barney must fend off those who would steal the cattle while also organizing local cattlemen to work together; along the way he bickers with temperamental Helen, whom he knew when she was a child.

RACKETEERS OF THE RANGE is the lesser of this pair of films. Its drawbacks include too much time spent discussing business matters along with fairly poor back projections as the backdrop for the climactic battle aboard a train. Although there are action scenes, overall this film just doesn't have the engaging spark of most O'Brien films; that includes in the romance department, as O'Brien and Reynolds argue for much of the film.

On the plus side of the ledger are spunky leading lady Reynolds and some nice music from Ray Whitley; even Chill Wills gets in on the singing!

The 62-minute RACKETEERS OF THE RANGE was directed by D. Ross Lederman from a screenplay by Oliver Drake. It was filmed by Harry J. Wild, with exteriors shot at the RKO Ranch in Encino.

TIMBER STAMPEDE puts the viewer in more familiar O'Brien territory. It's a pleasing, action-packed Western in which Scott Baylor (O'Brien) and his pal Whopper (Chill Wills) battle a plan by crooked businessmen to file homestead claims for the timber.

O'Brien shows off his physical agility jumping on horses, hurling furniture, and engaging in fistfights -- watch for a nice toss of one bad guy over his shoulder in a saloon fight -- all of which make him a lot of fun to watch. (He was certainly in great shape when he rejoined the Navy in his 40s, when the war started a couple of years later.) Worth noting that while O'Brien rarely used stunt doubles, he did seem to use them more than usual in TIMBER STAMPEDE, notably when his horse jumps through a glass window and probably also in the scenes where he lassos a sign and drops off a second-floor staircase.

His romance of Eastern reporter Anne Carr (Reynolds) is entertaining from the outset. TIMBER STAMPEDE also has some terrific location work in Sonora, California, which gives it a fresh look, a nice change of pace from familiar-looking movie ranch sets.

It's fun to note that in TIMBER STAMPEDE the actors are dealing with something flying around in the scene where O'Brien and Reynolds meet; I'm not sure if it was snow flurries or a swarm of bugs!

Players like Robert Fiske, Monte Montague, Bud Osborne, and Cactus Mack are again on hand in TIMBER STAMPEDE, along with Morgan Wallace and Bob Burns. Plus look for Hank Worden as a photographer.

TIMBER STAMPEDE was directed by David Howard from a screenplay by Morton Grant. The cinematographer was Harry J. Wild. The film is 59 minutes long.

I previously reviewed another film from this set, LAWLESS VALLEY (1938).

Both prints look good. They're occasionally a bit soft, with a random flaw in the picture, and stock footage in TIMBER STAMPEDE is more faded than the rest of the film.  However, considering the appearance of some O'Brien prints I've seen in the past, these are entirely solid, very watchable prints, with excellent sound quality. Any O'Brien fan will be happy to own them. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


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